Together with Yazidi leaders and emergency relief agency heads on the ground in northern Iraq, UN officials immediately disputed claims made late Wednesday by President Obama that Yazidi civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar no longer faced a humanitarian catastrophe, and that for all intents and purposes, the crises could now be considered over.
Vian Dakhail, the Yazidi parliamentarian who made global headlines earlier this month for her impassioned plea that someone protect her people from genocidal slaughter at the hands of ISIS terrorists besieging remnants of the ancient religious minority who had escaped massacre by fleeing into the wilderness of Iraq’s Mount Sinjar, said of Obama’s claim that the crisis was over, “It’s just not true. It is just not true at all.”
Dakhail made her comments from a hospital bed where she was recovering from injuries sustained when the helicopter she was traveling in to deliver relief supplies crashed Tuesday. “It is just not true that all of them are safe,” she said. Dakhail recoiled at Obama’s claim that “only a few thousand” refugees remained stranded on Mount Sinjar and that they “were no longer starving.”
She, together with officials from the UN and leading relief agencies working the catastrophe, estimated the number of trapped Yazidis stood between 70,000 and 80,000 and suggested that 18 members of the small US special forces who spent only a few hours on the mountain and have already left Iraq conducted their hurried search for refugees on the wrong side of the mountain.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees corroborates Dakhail’s figure of 80,000 refugees who have fled onto Mount Sinjar as a result of the ISIS advance.
Officials claim the vast majority of those trapped are located on the southern flank of the 60-mile-long east-west range, whereas the escape routes to safety are located on the northern edge of Mount Sinjar. “Conditions”, said Dakhail, on “the south side of the mountain [remain] very terrible.”
Dakhail’s bleak assessment of the situation on Mt. Sinjar was categorically supported by United Nations officials in the region. David Swanson, the spokesman for the UN coordinator of humanitarian affairs in Northern Iraq, told the New York Times, “The crisis on Mt. Sinjar is by no means over.” “Although many people managed to escape from the northern side,” he said, “there are still thousands of others up there under conditions of extreme heat, dehydration, and imminent threat of attack.” “The situation”, he said, “is far from resolved.”
“We have multiple, both primary and secondary, sources coming in,” Swanson continued. “This is day 12 and the crisis is far from over.”
Dakhail suggested that the American assessment operation purposely avoided the southern side of Mt. Sinjar to prevent the US forces from coming within range of ISIS anti-aircraft fire. The southern face of Mt. Sinjar is the area with the greatest problems for refugees precisely due to their exposure to ISIS forces.
Kieran Dyer, another spokesman for the UN’s humanitarian coordinator’s office, said, “We aren’t doing a military assessment. We are doing a humanitarian assessment, and from a humanitarian perspective,” he said, “the situation remains grave.”
On Thursday, President Obama took to a grammar school on Martha’s Vineyard to tell a national television audience that “the bottom line is that the situation on the mountain has greatly improved” and that therefore Americans should “not expect there to be an additional operation to get people off the mountain.”
The President, who used his statement about Iraq to also call upon local law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri, to demonstrate “greater transparency” in dealing with journalists attempting to cover the ongoing racial violence there, refused to take questions from the press before returning directly to the Farm Neck Golf Club in Oaks Bluff, Massachusetts, for another afternoon round.